NZ marks Omicron-free Christmas as virus disrupts global travel


New Zealanders celebrated Christmas on Saturday in the warmth of mid-summer with few restrictions, in one of the few countries in the world largely untouched by the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

Ninety-five percent of adults in New Zealand have had at least one dose of the vaccine, making it one of the world’s most vaccinated populations. The only omicron cases that have been found in New Zealand have been safely contained at the border.

Meanwhile, commercial airlines around the world cancelled more than 4,300 flights over the Christmas weekend, as a mounting wave of COVID-19 infections driven by the Omicron variant created greater uncertainty and misery for holiday travellers.

The latest development comes as COVID-19 infections have surged in several countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom and France in recent days, prompting the reimposition of measures such as the use of masks, vaccination mandates and travel restrictions in several countries.

Here are the latest updates for Saturday:


In omicron-free New Zealand, Christmas without restrictions

New Zealanders celebrated Christmas on Saturday in the warmth of mid-summer with few restrictions, in one of the few countries in the world largely untouched by the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

Ninety-five percent of adults in New Zealand have had at least one dose of the vaccine, making it one of the world’s most vaccinated populations. The only Omicron cases that have been found in New Zealand have been safely contained at the border.

As COVID-19 spread around the world the past two years, New Zealand used its isolation to its advantage. Border controls kept the worst of the virus at bay and by Christmas this year, New Zealand had recorded 50 deaths in a population of 5.5 million.


Daily COVID cases in Australia’s New South Wales top 6,000

Australia’s most populous state recorded more than 6,000 new COVID-19 cases for the first time Saturday, adding a sombre note to Christmas celebrations.

New South Wales reported 6,288 new infections in the past 24 hours, an increase of 676 cases from the previous day and by far the highest number of cases in any Australian state since the pandemic began. No deaths were reported and the number of people who have received at least one vaccine dose reached 95 percent.

Victoria, Australia’s second-most populous state, reported 2,108 new cases and six deaths on Saturday.


Health expert highlights importance of wearing mask to fight COVID


US Navy warship sidelined with COVID-19 outbreak

A US Navy warship has paused its deployment to South America because of a coronavirus outbreak, the Navy said Friday.

The USS Milwaukee, a littoral combat ship, is staying in port at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where it had stopped for a scheduled port visit. It began its deployment from Mayport, Florida, on December 14 and was heading into the US Southern Command region.

The Navy said in a statement that the ship’s crew is “100% immunized” and that all of those who tested positive for COVID-19 have been isolated on the ship away from other crew members. The number of crew testing positive was not disclosed. The ship has a crew of a little more than 100.

The Navy said that “a portion” of those infected are having mild symptoms and that the specific variant is not yet known. COVID-19 cases have surged across the country due to the highly contagious Omicron coronavirus variant.


Antetokounmpo clears NBA’s COVID protocols

The Milwaukee Bucks received an early Christmas present in the form of two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo clearing the National Basketball Association’s health and safety protocols on Friday.

However, Antetokounmpo’s status remains up in the air for Milwaukee’s Christmas Day showdown against the visiting Boston Celtics on Saturday afternoon.

For their part, the Celtics officially placed five more players into COVID protocols on Friday, bringing the team’s total to 12.


Blinken thanks South Africa in call with counterpart Naledi Pandor

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke via phone with his South African counterpart Naledi Pandor about an earlier announcement that the US plans to lift travel restrictions on several southern African nations, imposed last month amid fears over the Omicron variant.

“The Secretary again thanked South Africa’s scientists and government for their transparency and expertise,” State Department Spokesman Ned Price said in a statement describing the call.

“He emphasized the importance of the longstanding partnership between the United States and South Africa to combat the impacts of COVID-19.”


More than 4,000 Christmas flights cancelled worldwide

Airlines around the world called off more than 4,000 flights over the Christmas weekend, due to the increase in COVID-19 cases from the Omicron variant.

The website FlightAware showed 2,314 flights had been cancelled worldwide on Christmas Eve, a typically robust day in passenger transit. About a quarter of those suspended itineraries were in the US.

Another 1,404 flights scheduled for Christmas Day were cancelled globally, the website said, along with 340 more that had been scheduled for Sunday, Boxing Day.





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